Just a week ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Lakers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Lakers were beyond shorthanded, as they lost two players in the game due to injury and were only able to hang on partly because the Cavaliers decided to shoot three-pointer after three-pointer despite the Lakers center Robert Sacre not being able to foul without giving the ball back to the Cavaliers.
The next day, the Cavaliers fired their general manager and looked well on their way to another lottery appearance. The team was laughed at, their draft picks picked apart and the All-Star Break couldn’t come enough.
But then the Cavaliers went on a four game winning streak in which Anthony Bennett started to look like a competent NBA player, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters started to mesh and the Cavaliers beat two teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Four games later, the Cavaliers are now just three games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
The four game winning streak was capped off by the Cavaliers overcoming a bad shooting night from the field and domination on the boards from the Detroit Pistons’ massive frontline. The Cavaliers also never lead until 2:06 was left on the clock, when Irving hit two free throws that put them ahead 82-81.
The Pistons would take the lead on their next possession down, but when Tristan Thompson put back an Irving miss at the rim and gave the Cavaliers a lead they would never give up. An Irving three the next possession down extended the lead to four and, from then on, a steady stream of free throw makes by the Cavaliers ultimately sealed the victory.
Irving and Thompson were the real stars tonight, as they were the only Cavaliers to score in double figures. They also scored 23 out of the Cavaliers’ 25 fourth quarter points and closed out the Cavaliers win by doing everything they needed down the stretch and to send them into their All-Star Break with momentum.
And considering what happened just a week ago, this is about as good of a turn around as you could expect from a team that looked dead with almost half a season left to play.
PG Kyrie Irving – 36 minutes, 23 points, 6-16 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, three steals
Normally, when Irving shoots like this, he has problems being effective. But tonight was different. Irving was in the flow on both ends, played hard and really made life hard for Brandon Jennings. He also finished strong and was instrumental in the Cavaliers winning tonight. It may not have been his biggest performance, but I loved this performance from Irving. It may go down as my favorite Irving performance of the year when it’s all said and done.
SG Jarrett Jack – 28 minutes, nine points, 3-7 shooting, eight assists
Maybe the best Jarrett Jack has played all year. He took shots in the flow, willingly distributed the ball and complimented Irving well. You can’t really ask for much more out of him.
SF Luol Deng – 36 minutes, four points, 0-9 from the field, 4-6 from the line, seven rebounds
Deng really struggled with his shot tonight, whether he was attacking inside or shooting from deep. Still, he made a positive impact, as he defended Josh Smith fairly well and cleaned up on the glass.
PF Tristan Thompson – 34 minutes, 25 points, 12-16 from the field, 15 rebounds
This may have been Thompson’s best game of the season. He has struggled heavily of late, but coming off a solid game against the Sacramento Kings, Thompson started so-so but really finishes strong. He played excellent defense down the stretch, grabbed seemingly every rebound in site and even finished at the rim. And when he does finish at the rim, not only does he become more useful but it opens things up for everyone else. This was a game in which Thompson maximized everything he does well and a great way for him to head into the All-Star Break.
C Tyler Zeller – 22 minutes, eight points, 4-6 from the field, three rebounds
Zeller was okay tonight, but he really struggled in establishing position and going up for rebounds. His biggest contributions came when he helped with spacing by hitting a few shots from the outside and finishing around the rim. Still, not his worst game of the season.
G Dion Waiters – 20 minutes, nine points, 4-8 shooting
Waiters was the best player off the bench tonight due to the fact that he attacked the rim and was really glued in on the defensive end, but he cliched it with his dancing after Irving nailed the three that sealed the game. Matthew Dellavedova gets second place for his towel whip, but I’d willing to place C.J. Miles in the discussion as well.
Mike Brown played every healthy player outside of Sergey Karasev tonight and it was by design. The Cavaliers were flat in the first half and, with Detroit just obliterating Cleveland on the boards, Brown emptied out the bench. Overall, Brown was solid, as he made the proper second half adjustments and it showed as his team made a push down the stretch. Playing Earl Clark at the end was a little baffling and I would have liked to have seen less of Henry Sims, but this was one of Brown’s better managed games this season.